I am twelve years old and on summer vacation with the sister closest to me, who was twenty-one, and my mother, who was an old fifty-two and subject to migraine headaches. We are at a cabin on Fox River Lake, a summer place outsideof Chicago. There is a rowboat tethered to the dock leading from the cabin to the lake. I take careful note of the boat and the lake. My sister and my mother immediately assign chores to me, which I carry out resentfully. I really want to sit inthe porch swing and read.
The next day, a stormy, gray day, my sister Fay goes to town for supplies; my mother is snoring gently in the main room of the cabin, and I am looking longingly at the boat at the end of the dock. My sister's and my mother's voices are echoing in my head: NEVER TAKE THE BOAT OUT WITHOUT PERMISSION. I stand on the dock, looking longingly at the boat. I hear the wind whistling in my ears, TAKE THE BOAT! TAKE THE BOAT! Suddenly I turn, run up the steps to the cabin, jumping over the creaking third step and take the oars that are leaning against the wall. I close the screen door carefully, and run down to the dock.
Stepping gingerly into the rocking boat, I fit the oars into the locks, untie the rope, and start to row across the stormy lake. I pull hard against the waves and arrive on the opposite shore, where I know a friend of mine is also spending the summer. I row into the dock, tie up and walk proudly up to their cabin. We play all afternoon, and in the evening, after dinner, I row back. By this time, the lake is calm, the full moon is shining on the water; I am happily and confidently rowing home, singing at the top of my voice, "Oh, moon, I am part of you and you are part of me; I am one with the universe!"
Alas. As I maneuver my boat up to our home dock, I notice all the lights in the cabin are blazing, and there seems to be a lot of commotion. As I carry the oars up the steps and open the door, I notice all the neighbors are there with nets and lanterns and rope. They stare at me; my mother is lying on the couch, a cloth over her eyes; my sister comes storming up to me. "Where have you been? You know you're not supposed to take the boat out without permission, don't you? Didn't you hear me calling you?" She grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me.
I lean the oars against the wall, shrug, and reply, "I rowed across the lake to visit Bessie."
That was the end of my vacation. I went back to Chicago on the local train the next day. But I never forgot the sense of joy rowing back across the lake, singing to the moon.